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OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: The pretender

by Philip Martin | October 10, 2021 at 2:22 a.m.

Maybe it's human nature to posture.

I read a post on Facebook where a guy whose academic career ended with the bestowal of a journalism degree from a land grant university explains how an actual constitutional scholar--a lawyer who teaches constitutional law in a law school to people studying to become lawyers--isn't in fact a constitutional scholar because he doesn't read the law like the one-time journalism student does.

He's got a right to do that, just as he has a right to hold whatever opinion he has arrived at, no matter how wishful and uninformed the opinion may be. You can think your own thoughts, and I imagine we all think crazy ones from time to time.

We don't always have a clear idea of our limitations, maybe in part because we're exposed to so much inspirational pablum. They will tell you can think and grow rich or learn guitar in 15 minutes a day because they know they can sell you their program. The truth is that you don't possess unlimited potential, and if you're going to learn to be good at anything you're going to have to study and practice and push yourself way past your comfort level. And even if you do all that, you still run the risk of not being good enough.

That's probably the best reason for most of us to play sports. Because sports will show you who you are compared to other competitors. Sports will mercilessly rate you--you're a 3.0 tennis player, you carry an 8 index as a golfer, "sorry miss, you didn't make the team."

And you can pretend. You can say you could have gone pro if your high school coach hadn't hated you. You can turn in better scores than what you shot. You can talk all you want about how fast you can run or how high you can jump, and most of the people around the office aren't going to care enough to call you out, and if they do you can always wince and grab your hamstring.

But you know.

And the truth is, you're not fooling anyone else either.

Nobody, aside from a few newspaper columnists who probably are providing fan service to readers hungry for "good news," ever bought Urban Meyer's whole Moral Man posturing anyway. Everybody who thinks about sports rationally understands there's only one reason why he keeps getting hired as a football coach: He's a good football coach.

It's not because he's a godly man or any kind of role model. It's because he understands a very complex game in a way few others do.

Is his faith important to him? He says it is. Is his family important to him? We should hope so. Football is certainly important, and he does it well.

When he was a college coach there were reasons for Meyer to present as a highly moral person. Much of the success of a college football coach depends on his ability to convince the parents of 17- and 18-year-olds that he will take care of their sons if they send them off to play for him.

College football coaches hold themselves as surrogate parents for these kids, some of whom come from religious backgrounds. And even if they don't, most parents would prefer a coach who cares for their child's whole being, not just the part that can help them win games and championships and earn millions of dollars a year.

So, as offensive and cringe-inducing as the whole football coach as moral exemplar model can be, it's at least understandable when you're recruiting teenage athletes. A college football program should not be a win-at-all-costs operation; it ought to be as much about preparing young people to live in the world as it is about collecting trophies and banners.

While it's possible to do this without the whole talkin'-down-to-Jesus shtick that Meyer affected, you can at least see a reason for him to pretend he's better than everyone else.

But professional sports are different. These are grown men, independent contractors, who are extremely good at their difficult jobs. They understand that they'll only be there for as long as the organization finds them useful; as soon as a better option presents itself, the team has a duty to take it.

I doubt there is anyone on the Jacksonville Jaguars who is surprised that their head coach isn't who he pretends to be.

They're seen Meyer indulge in cronyism. They saw him arrogantly hire (then have to dismiss) Chris Doyle as strength coach after Doyle had been forced out of Iowa after being accused of making racist statements and bullying players. ("We did a very good job vetting that one," Meyer said at the time.)

Then they saw him give a training-camp invite to his neighbor, 34-year-old Tim Tebow, so he could compete for a roster spot at a position he had never played.

They've also seem him make questionable football decisions, like holding a fake competition for the starting quarterback job during training camp, which only served to deprive the inevitable starter--No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence--valuable experience.

And for most of the players, the real problem with last week's caught-on-video display--where Meyer apparently got handsy with a twerking young woman "not his wife" in the bar of the Columbus, Ohio, restaurant he owns--was not the inappropriateness of Meyer's actions, but the fact he skipped the team's chartered plane ride home after their loss to the Cincinnati Bengals to stay in Ohio to spend some time with his grandchildren.

Meyer can go after the media and the mean tweeters; he can act like he was ambushed, but the players aren't going to buy that. Meyer is going to have to be accountable to them, and maybe to his owner too. They're not going to be as easy to roll as some sportswriter willing to point out all the times Urban Meyer has ostentatiously taken a knee on the field. (Yeah, we saw that.)

Now Meyer's got a lawyer looking over his contract, looking to see if there isn't a way to claw back some of that guaranteed money.

You can pretend to be anything. If you don't add value, you don't have a job.

pmartin@adgnewsroom.com

Print Headline: The pretender

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